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Parents Need to Know How Much Homework is Too Much

Jan 17, 2011 | By Harvey Craft

Child doing homeworkHomework is an accepted part of school. Parents seldom question its purpose or effectiveness. And most parents don't know that it's a matter of controversy.

Homework was not always an integral part of education in America. During the 19th and early 20th centuries homework was generally not assigned. Indeed, homework was simply not allowed by many school districts around the country.

Children were expected to contribute to running the farm or complete chores at home. Children were often employed and their income helped support the family. Homework interfered with these traditional expectations. Also, relatively few children went to college. A sixth grade education was sufficient for acquiring good reading and math skills. The world was a very different place requiring skills that supported an agrarian society or manual labor.

Changing Times Seemed to Create a Need for Homework

Resistance to homework diminished with technological advancements and subsequent new skills required. More people attended college under the G.I. Bill. Still a 1948 national survey showed that the weekly median amount of homework for American High School students was only four hours.

New times: Soviets launch the first satellite into spaceIn 1957, the first artificial satellite was launched by the Soviet Union. The feat was a major embarrassment to the United States government and its schools. Educators ramped up efforts to improve instruction and the government poured more money at the perceived problem. The worst fear of Americans seemed to change almost overnight – the Russians were ahead in space technology, and that meant better missiles. More homework was touted as a means of educational improvement.

The National Commission on Excellence in Education published "A Nation at Risk" in 1983. It was a sweeping condemnation of almost every aspect of American Education. For no particularly sound reason the commission decided that homework should be increased and it was. 
The recommendation for more homework was intended primarily for high schools, but the rush to fix everything quickly became an example of "more is better", and elementary schools were caught up in the panic.

Homework is Not, and Never Was, Consistent

Like many aspects of education, homework was poorly defined as to what it was intended to accomplish, what it was supposed to be, and how much was appropriate. Educators pretty much decided that homework was simply school work done at home, and it often consisted of questions copied out of the book and answered. How much was more or less up to the teacher.

Over 25 years after "A Nation at Risk" education in America remains largely unchanged, yet the U.S. surged ahead in technological advancements, became the unchallenged leader in space exploration, and produced extraordinary achievements in virtually all sciences. Things went on pretty much as usual except for homework - students are still burdened with what more and more researchers claim is unwarranted.

Homework's Contribution to the Learning Process is Uncertain

Homework, as it usually is assigned today, is the subject of much study. The results of various studies often conflict, but several findings seem clear:

  • Young boy doing homeworkHomework is of less value in elementary school and marginal value in high school.
  • Homework should not be graded because of its role as a formative assessment.
  • The standard that is gaining acceptance for the amount of homework is 10 minutes per grade per night. I.e., 1st graders get a total of 10 minutes, 2nd graders get a total of 20 minutes etc.
  • Teachers tend to ignore recommendations as to amount and the role of homework as a non-graded formative assessment.
  • Parents rarely question homework practices of teachers.
  • Homework can, and is, copied out of class nullifying its value.
  • Homework is often not corrected by the teacher thereby depriving students of feedback. Rather, it may be simply checked off and those checks are, by various methods, converted into grades.
  • Homework is often graded for no other reason than to make students do it.
  • There is no level playing field when it comes to homework. Some students have parents to encourage and assist, some don't.
  • Homework may or may not contribute to responsibility. Do responsible students do homework, or does homework make students responsible? The question remains unanswered.

Do Children Have too Much Homework?

Since educators cannot agree on the role and importance of homework, it is fair to say that many children are performing activities at home that do little to help them learn. Considering the list of concerns above, certainly many children do have too much homework.

  • In deciding whether or not a child has too much homework, the following issues should be considered:
  • Does a child experience stress because of homework?
  • Does homework rob a child of valuable family time or leisure activities?
  • Is a child failing due to missing homework?
  • Do homework assignments look like busy work or do appear to be clearly connected to standards?
  • Is homework given as punishment?
  • Is homework returned corrected with teacher comments?
  • Is homework a large part - or any part - of a student's grade?

Homework can likely be of some help to some students in some cases. The important factor is that teachers understand the role of homework as an instructional tool. Parents need to have the knowledge to help teachers understand that role. The inconsistent nature of education across the U.S. do not encourage fairness is assigning homework. There are few clear and valid rules, but parents can help by being informed.

About the author:
Harvey Craft
 is a retired educator and former principal, with extensive experience in teaching grades six through to twelve. He is NBPTS certified in Adolescent Science and now spends his time in educational research, consulting, and freelance writing.
Click here to contact or read more articles by Harvey Craft.

Tags : homework, benefits, importance, amount, learning, school, children, kids, child, kid, education

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